Nothing but Blackened Teeth
Cassandra Khaw
Nightfire (October 19, 2021)
Reviewed by Ray Palen

This short novel, NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH, from author Cassandra Khaw packs in some horrifying images and ideas that are all deeply steeped in Japanese folklore. Like many American gothic horror novels, any story that harkens back to the past or ancient times just seems to be that much more horrific than a lot of modern day horror.

The setting is a Heian-era mansion, the ideal location for a wedding of thrill-seekers. Early on, one of the group of friends involved in the wedding recalls: ‘Growing up where we did, back in melting-pot Malaysia, down in the tropics where the mangroves spread dense as myths, you knew to look for ghosts.’ Thus, this group would not be turned off by anything supernatural; more likely they would run towards it with a certain amount of eagerness.

The time spent within this mansion was sure to provide interesting experiences beyond just marital vows. The friends all knew of the sordid history of the mansion, and just imagined about the number of dead and dismembered women that were housed within its walls. As they partook in the wedding ceremony, including the distribution of gifts, they felt the darkness of the mansion closing in on them, permeating the proceedings. They realized that this was the time where supervillains were born.

One spirit from the mansion in particular is seeking to make contact with the group. She appears to be a ghost of a bride-to-be, waiting for her fiancée to return home. It is obvious this does not happen, and that she is one angry spirit. Much of her story is found within an ancient poem—but nothing in the poem will prepare the group for what she has in store for them.

I love stories set in different lands and cultures because I always learn something, and it is nice to step out of my comfort zone, in a literary sense. Cassandra Khaw combines several different Asian cultures into NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH, and all I can forewarn you is that the horrific character on the book’s cover is just the tip of the iceberg for the creepy chills this novella will provide readers.

About Ray Palen